NAB: ATSC 3.0 Will Foster Innovation, Diversity

Reaction was swift to new FCC chairman Ajit Pai's decision to propose letting broadcasters roll out the new ATSC 3.0 transmission standard.

"NAB strongly supports the FCC moving ahead on two proceedings of significant importance to broadcasters – a rulemaking on Next Gen Television and an AM revitalization order," said National Association of Broadcasters executive VP of communications Dennis Wharton.

Pai released both items in a pilot project to publish the text of items before they are voted—both the next gen TV item and AM radio will be voted on at the February meeting.

"Both items will foster technological innovation, increase opportunities for minority and female owners, and create new and unique services for consumers," said Wharton.

"Chairman Pai deserves credit for departing from the past practice of both Republican and Democratic-controlled Commissions, and publicly releasing the proposals early to inject greater transparency in the FCC rulemaking process. We believe this action will provide greater clarity for stakeholders and greater trust from the public in dealing with the FCC going forward."

“We’re delighted that the Commission will be issuing the rulemaking notice soon with the significant commitment of Chairman Pai to move quickly to final rules," said Jerald Fritz, executive VP of One Media, the Sinclair Broadcast-backed think tank advocating for the standard. "The benefit for viewers and broadcasters alike are as profound as any developed in the past 90 years.  The timing to implement the new standard in conjunction with the repack is a practical and strategic imperative.”

Anne Schelle, managing director of Pearl TV—a consortium of eight station groups collectively operating more than 220 local TV stations—likewise praised Pai’s announcement. The group has long been a proponent of ATSC 3.0.

“As broadcasters focused on the development and deployment of new technology, Pearl is pleased that the FCC is launching a rulemaking that would allow the voluntary adoption of next generation TV,” she said in a statement. “ATSC 3.0 will give broadcasters the tools they need to compete in a vastly different environment than when digital TV was first imagined. 

“The move to an Internet Protocol-based system will deliver more content to viewers from more sources and insure that over-the-air broadcasting remains the primary resource for breaking news, emergency alerts, and a TV experience tailored to the desires of the viewer.”

Pai’s announcement comes as South Korean broadcasters begin deploying ATSC 3.0 this month, with Seoul-based LG Electronics debuting the first ATSC 3.0-enabled 4K Ultra HD (UHD) TVs there.

The Advanced Television Systems Committee (ATSC) announced at the recent Consumer Electronics Show that it expects to complete the suite of standards for ATSC 3.0 in the U.S. this spring, with a half-dozen of the standards—including captions and subtitles, watermarking solutions and physical and link layer protocols—already approved. 

“Chairman Pai and his fellow Commissioners should be applauded for moving so quickly on the Next Gen TV rulemaking," said Rebecca Hanson, SVP for strategy and policy at Sinclair Broadcast Group. "The efficiencies of one-to-many datacasting will not only be disruptive on the consumer front, but will also bring public safety communications into the 21st century. The current wireless emergency alert system is inadequate and has cost lives. Next Gen TV will offer more effective ways to keep our local communities and first responders safe.”

That was seconded by the group focused on the safety aspect.

“The AWARN Alliance applauds Chairman Pai and the Commission for releasing the text of the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking for voluntary ATSC 3.0 transmission," said AWARN executive director John Lawson. “ATSC 3.0 is the world’s most advanced television transmission standard, and it will enable the world’s most advanced emergency alerting system, the Advanced Warning and Response Network (AWARN).

“We commend Chairman Pai for recognizing ATSC 3.0’s life-saving potential during his time on the Commission. The diverse and growing membership of the AWARN Alliance looks forward to the coming rulemaking proceeding.”

AWARN joined with broadcasters and consumer electronics companies to petition the FCC to allow the rollout.

The American Television Alliance, comprising cable and satellite operators and others pushing for retransmission consent reforms, was reserving final judment until it gets answers to some of the questions the FCC is asking.

“If implemented properly, the ATSC 3.0 standard could bring some important benefits to consumers, including access to higher quality 4K video, immersive sound, and more efficient spectrum," said ATVA spokesman Trent Duffy. "However, there are a number of questions that have been raised by public interest groups, ATVA and others that the rule-making process must answer.

"We are pleased the NPRM circulated invites comments on these important matters, particularly on how the new standard could impact retransmission consent negotiations and the potentially significant costs associated with the transition including what new equipment will pay TV customers have to acquire and will Pay TV customers be compelled to pay additional fees to receive the new signals."

Many of those questions were raised by Michael Calabrese, director of New America's Wireless Future Program.

“Consumer advocates are concerned that the many unanswered questions about how an ATSC 3.0 transition will impact viewers," said Calabrese. "Will consumers who rely on broadcast-only TV, a population that is disproportionately older and minority, need to purchase expensive new TV sets and how soon? Will broadcasters continue to be subject to the modest public interest obligations that partially compensate for their use of free spectrum that most other industries pay to license?  And will broadcasters continue even their most core public interest obligation, which is a free stream of programming to almost everyone in their local market area?”

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.